There’s something exciting happening in Canada right now: an ecosystem, a culture, is developing around technology and innovation.
I’ve started tribe.ca to explore this new culture, and I’ll be talking with the very people creating Canada’s tech future. We’ll take a deeper dive into the tech ecosystem so you can experience it from the inside. Our content will be longer form, and our approach completely transparent. We’ll watch Canadian tech being developed, we’ll watch Canadian tech in action. Over time, we are going to paint a higher resolution picture of the rapidly evolving tech scene in Canada.
I’m a geek. I’m a former counselor and therapist, a photographer, a DJ, a magazine publisher, a treasure hunter, and the founder of a digital ad network. I founded the TRIBE FORUM, a large online community in Canada and run it continuously for nearly a quarter of a century.
Last summer, on a whim, I attended my first TechTO event. As I locked my bike to the ring outside RBC Waterfront Plaza, I steeled myself for what I thought would be a dozen geeks sitting around a table, discussing code. It wasn’t that at all…
I was completely taken with the size of the room – what seemed to be five hundred attendees milling about in the foyer area, eating slices of pizza while excitedly talking about new ideas around technology. The speakers that evening were all excellent, and everyone in the room seemed eager to learn. There was a feeling of excitement in the air. The energy in the room reminded me of a similar feeling I had once before – nearly 25 years ago when I started TRIBE MAGAZINE, a print publication, and later an online community, covering DJ and electronic music culture in Canada.
This is where I come from…
1993 TRIBE MAGAZINE LAUNCH
Picture a world without the web, a world where a cell phone was as large as a loaf of bread and had just as many features.
I was a counselor and therapist working at a Toronto chemical dependency treatment center. I also had a private practice as a hypnotherapist working with Dual Diagnosis clients – specifically those suffering from eating disorders and chemical dependency in combination. It was a fulfilling career, but still, something was missing for me.
I used to DJ in nightclubs in my university days and always loved underground dance music, disco, and house music. I had given up DJing out many years ago, but I still bought vinyl at one of the two main DJ record stores in Toronto. Every Thursday in the 90’s was record buying day in Toronto; the day when the imports came in from the US and the UK. The top DJs in the city hung around the record stores to snap up the best of the new 12 inch releases. Back then, real DJs spun vinyl – not CDs, and digital DJing had not yet been invented.
”Picture a world without the web - a world where a cell phone was as large as a full loaf of bread and had just as many features.
A DJ friend invited me to an afterhours gig he was throwing on Saturday night. He handed me a slip of paper with a Spadina Avenue address on it and told me to drop by. The address led to a commercial building and a rickety elevator took me to the top floor. I showed up at midnight, thinking this wouldn’t be too early or too late. The venue was the entire top floor of the building. A raw dusty concrete floor spread out before me. Wires hung from the ceiling, pipes dripping, the ducting fully exposed. At the very end of the floor my DJ friend and a couple of guys were setting up turntables and a mixer on upside down flight cases. Huge stacks of Cerwin Vega bass bins already stood in the corners.
Other than the setup crew and I, nobody else was there. I wondered if anyone ever would ever show up, as it was already well past midnight. I left to get some Chinese food at Swatow up the street and after a slowly eaten #106, went back to the building and rode the rickety elevator up to the top floor. This time the bass was coming down the elevator shaft. The elevator ceiling was rattling.
The doors opened into a dark room rammed with people. The only light in the space came from the stylus lights on the turntables and the occasional flash of cigarette lighters. The sound was everywhere. About three or four hundred people must have been in there – dancing in the dark, shoulder to shoulder. It was hot. It was sweaty. It was slightly dangerous. It was awesome.
The idea surfaced: there is a new music culture here. I will start a magazine to cover it. I will spread the word about it. I will document it for the present, and capture it for the future.
And so I bootstrapped TRIBE MAGAZINE in 1993 as a national monthly magazine. I moved into a sketchy 400 square foot commercial space above a pawn shop at Queen St. & Church with over 10,000 records, a DJ setup, a Mac and a PC, a bar fridge, a bed and a hotplate. I was only supposed to be there for six months until I found something better, but ended up staying there for almost five years.
I needed columnists so I asked my friend Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist from the Cure, to write the street fashion column. Roger had moved to Toronto after the band’s Disintegration album to open a retail store called Uncle Otis. I asked Mychol Holtzman to write my gossip column. At the time, Mychol was the most well connected promoter for after hours events in Toronto. He gave me his column every month as a handful of crumpled up napkins and bar coasters which I had to decipher and transcribe. I asked DJ team Peter, Tyrone & Shams to provide advice and reviews on music as needed. I talked rave kids Kate Clegg & Andrew Richmond into writing the monthly column on the rave scene. Andrew later went on to found Toronto’s La Carnita and Sweet Jesus eateries in Toronto.
That was my starting lineup, and none of them had any experience writing for a magazine, which was perfect because neither did I! I had to learn by doing: I made plenty of mistakes, but my readers were forgiving and TRIBE MAGAZINE quickly became the national magazine for DJ culture and the electronic music scene in Canada.
Cheryl, Skot and Laura reading TRIBE in 1994
THE INTERNET ARRIVES IN CANADA
I started a small BBS (online bulletin board system) as an offshoot of TRIBE MAGAZINE in the fall of 1993. I figured it would be another place for promoters to publicize their events instead of just using little slips of photocopied paper distributed hand to hand in bars around the city.
In early 1994 the web caught my attention. You have to realize that back then, the internet was unknown to most people, and the web didn’t really exist yet. Pagers were everywhere, but cell phones were still quite rare because of their cost, size, and their lack of functionality, and of course phones in those days weren’t connected to the internet.
Many of the key players in the electronic music scene were comfortable making things with technology and used digital technology to produce their own music tracks, or like me, were geeks at heart. In fact, a few of the early TRIBE FORUM members ran the very first ISPs in Toronto; Bell/Rogers/Telus/ oligopoly weren’t even providing public internet connectivity in any customer-facing way.
I used the first internet browser and a text editor to kludge together the TRIBE v1.0 website in early 1994, making TRIBE the first Canadian magazine with a website, and one of the very first sites in the country. I could see that the web was the future and decided to create an interactive forum on the web. I thought it’d become an ideal place to build a community around DJ Culture and electronic music.
The TRIBE FORUM launched late in 1994 and has remained active ever since.
When creating the forum, I imagined a basement DJ in a small town in Canada who was desperate to find out what tracks DJs in Toronto or Montreal were playing. I wanted to show them how to start, grow, and promote scenes in their own towns. That was my inspiration.
Over the years TRIBE grew to become the connecting point for the DJs, fans, promoters, and retailers in the electronic music scene, and helped grow electronic music scenes in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and other Canadian cities.
TRIBE MAGAZINE cover #99 May 2003
THE END OF PRINT
After 10 years of publishing TRIBE (109 issues), I decided to stop. It was a hard decision, but the environment had changed. The web had become ubiquitous. Advertising in the print version had become harder and harder to sell. The forum was getting millions of page views a month, and I told myself I’d start the print version again someday if the economics of print publishing got better. When I decided to stop print, we had already been a digital publisher for over a decade.
I signed a contract with a couple of US ad networks for the TRIBE FORUM, and was approached by Google to test out a new advertising product called Google Ad Manager (the predecessor to DFP SB with Adsense integration). They wanted to give their new product a workout on the dynamically created pages in the TRIBE FORUM.
THE WALLED GARDEN
I continued to operate the forum as many other online communities failed or disappeared. We lost many members to facebook after it launched, and ad revenue began dropping as Facebook sucked the dollars out of online forums and websites everywhere.
My ads from Google began paying less and less. Google, once a good friend to the TRIBE FORUM in the early days, began making demands about our content. When you run a site that is over 4 million posts deep, an ad network will always find something not to like. It really sucked that the very content that attracted Google to the TRIBE FORUM in the first place was now the exact same content they were complaining about.
Meanwhile, in the electronic music scene, the small parties had grown into large 10,000 plus person raves. Toronto had become one of the largest rave scenes in the world. But it was ending, I could tell. The cycle was over. The underground was becoming an overground now called EDM, and for an underground music scene that meant death.
I throttled down new forum registrations and just focused on my remaining user base. I stepped back a bit to focus on personal issues as first my Mom, and then my Dad passed away.
As forum members got older and got real jobs, bought houses and condos, had their own families, the nature of the post content changed. Topics became more news and politics related, but forum members had grown up in packed sweaty rooms dancing to house and techno, so there was a common thread running underneath the community. The secret experiential handshake. This common shared experience is still at the heart of the TRIBE FORUM.
Our forum was different from most other online communities because our members actually met in person at electronic music events or at our annual DJ BBQ on the Toronto Islands. Quite a few TRIBE FORUM members met on the forum, married, had kids. When I think about this I feel warm and fuzzy.
To this day, when a forum member passes away or suffers some tragedy in life, past members of the community come back to post their condolences, and to offer their emotional support. Even though many members have moved away, the TRIBE FORUM is still very much like a family.
AlexD - Photo by Natalie Gooding
Enough about the past, let’s talk about the future!
While the TRIBE FORUM still exists on its own domain, this tribe.ca project is an entirely new and separate thing and a completely new direction. I hope you’ll follow our features, ideas, and stories as we dive into Canadian tech culture and meet the people driving the tech ecosystem forward.
I am going to limit the advertising on the site, and absolutely ban native advertising, but we are always looking for partners. If you want to be a part of tribe as a partner/sponsor, or, if you have any suggestions as to whom we should profile and interview, please contact me.
I look forward to seeing you out at the tech events or online.
Thanks for being a part of tribe!